BEREA, Ohio — Colt McCoy barely blinked as he tried to insist that it was just another day for the Cleveland Browns.
The rookie didn’t fool anyone. This was hardly routine.
Stepping way out of character, coach Eric Mangini named McCoy his starting quarterback for this week’s game at Cincinnati (2-11) and for the remainder of this season — home games against AFC North big boys Baltimore and Pittsburgh. McCoy, who hasn’t played since spraining his left ankle on Nov. 21 at Jacksonville, has been entrusted with Cleveland’s offense for three games that could determine Mangini’s future.
“It’s no landmark day,” McCoy said before practice Thursday. “Today is the day that, now I know I’m the starter. I gotta go out and play and go out and get better and I gotta go out and help us win.”
After checking McCoy’s mobility for a final time on Wednesday, Mangini decided to put him back in the starting lineup ahead of veteran Jake Delhomme, who struggled last week in a loss at Buffalo.
Mangini said it was his call to go with McCoy, but that he consulted with team president Mike Holmgren before making it official.
“I felt like he’s earned this opportunity and I want to give it to him,” Mangini said. “I want to see how he continues to grow. This is by no stretch just throwing a young guy in for the sake of throwing a young guy in. If I didn’t think that he could go out and lead us and be successful doing that, then I wouldn’t make this decision. But I do feel that way and I feel strongly about it.”
While Mangini’s decision will please the majority of Browns fans, it’s not known what affect it could have on Holmgren, who intends to wait until after the season before deciding whether to bring his coaching staff back. The Browns (5-8) have been wildly erratic this season, and Holmgren wants stability.
Mangini, though, isn’t playing McCoy to appease his boss. He said he’s playing him because he believes McCoy gives his team the best shot of winning.
“It’s not just a function of trying to get him his letter or anything like that,” Mangini said. “He’s earned this. I wouldn’t put the team in a position and all the guys in a position where we’re playing a guy just to play a guy. We’re all trying to win games.”
McCoy only received his original chance because of injuries to Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. But forced to play on Oct. 17 at Pittsburgh, he showed a toughness and poise that seemed to surprise the Browns, who weren’t sure what they had after the former Texas star struggled in training camp and the preseason.
McCoy passed for 975 yards and three touchdowns while going 2-3 as a starter before getting hurt. He’s determined to make the most of this second chance.
“I never looked for someone to name me the starting quarterback,” he said. “I just need to go out there and play. There are a lot of ways I can get better, there are a lot of things I can improve on and that’s what I’m going to do the rest of the year.”
And a good reason why, is because Delhomme’s comeback season crashed.
The 35-year-old signed with Cleveland hoping to revive his career, but a severe ankle injury and his inability to keep the Browns’ offense moving consistently led to the switch. As reporters waited to speak with McCoy, Delhomme dressed quietly for practice nearby.
“I’m going to work my tail off and always be ready,” he said. “You just have to take it in stride. That’s what I believe. That’s how I work and that’s what I’ll do.”
Mangini said Delhomme handled the news with typical class.
“He couldn’t have been more professional, couldn’t have been more supportive not only of Colt, but of the whole team,” Mangini said. “Colt is incredibly lucky to have someone like him in the building at this part of his career, because you can’t ask for a better team player than Jake Delhomme.”
At this point, the Browns shouldn’t be shocked by another spin of Cleveland’s quarterback carousel. Since Delhomme was injured in the opener, the Browns have made four changes at their most vital position. Delhomme made four starts, Wallace made four and McCoy is going on his sixth.
The Browns are hoping they don’t have to shift again. But the way this season has evolved, nothing can be ruled out.
McCoy’s moxie has won over Cleveland fans and his teammates.
“He’s been a winner at every level and he’s cool and confident,” running back Peyton Hillis said. “And when you’re confident, it tends to lead to good things. He’s shown some good things, of course he’s young and has to learn. He’ll be in the fire a few times before he can really get it, but I think the first few times against real quality opponents, him doing so well is a really good thing.”